Family Owners List Blackwell Bookstores | Retail business

The family behind Blackwell’s, the UK’s largest independent bookseller, has put the business up for sale after scrapping a plan to turn it over to employees.

A deal would remove Blackwell’s, which operates 18 stores and a website, from family control for the first time in its 143-year history.

The retailer said it was looking for an outside investor after a plan to take ownership of the business by its employees failed. He said that goal “ultimately proved difficult, largely due to the continued uncertainty on the high street caused by Covid-19”.

Blackwell’s, which was founded in Oxford and operates Heffers in Cambridge as well as flagship stores in London and Edinburgh, said underlying sales for the year to December 2021 rose 1.9%, a figure that suggests a drop in in-store sales and an increase in online commerce.

Julian Blackwell, Group Owner and Chairman, said: “I would have loved to hand over the business to its staff, but I also accept that in order to grow and remain competitive in the future, it is time for new owners, ideas and investment.

“I have always championed innovation and transformation in the ever-changing world of bookstores. I am delighted to have supported, and to see now, that Blackwell has become a major player in the sale of books online.

Potential buyers are likely to include Waterstones, which is owned by aggressive New York hedge fund Elliott Advisors. It bought indie rival Foyles in 2018 and had previously taken over small booksellers Dillons, Hatchards and Ottakar’s. While such a deal may attract the attention of the competition watchdog, the scale of competition from Amazon and WH Smith means it could be approved.

David Prescott, Managing Director of Blackwell’s, said: “The sale of Blackwell’s represents a truly unique and exciting opportunity for any potential buyer to own a highly regarded and trusted bookstore brand. The business has quietly and successfully transformed in recent years to establish a substantial global online presence alongside a core portfolio of iconic boutiques. We hope that new ownership and investment will help secure a long-term future for Blackwell’s and its booksellers for many years to come.

The potential sale was first reported by Sky News.

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